The cost of county government is going up in Kennebec County for the upcoming budget year, but not quite as much as first anticipated.

Initially, the anticipated increase to the county’s spending plan was 9.7%, but with some changes, that’s been scaled back to 8.8%. The proposed budget totals $13,609,717, an increase of $1.1 million over the current year’s budget.

The biggest driver of the increase is the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, whose law enforcement and corrections divisions make up about 69% of the county budget.

In this budget request, Sheriff Ken Mason is seeking to add three deputies — two more than usual — in response to the Maine State Police reducing its patrol responsibilities in Kennebec County, adding 19.7% or 408,000 to that budget line of $2.47 million. One would be expected to start in July, the other two in January 2021.

At the same time, Robert Devlin, Kennebec County administrator, said the Kennebec County jail ended the 2019 fiscal year with a deficit for the first time that anyone can remember. To balance that budget, he said, county officials tapped the undedicated fund balance.

For the upcoming 2021 budget year that starts July 1, county officials are seeking a 9.5% — or nearly $616,00 — increase in the jail’s $7 million budget.

That doesn’t include the annual request for funding from the state Legislature to help pay the jail costs. State lawmakers were originally scheduled to take up the issue on the day they ended their legislative session in March, due to public health concerns over large gatherings as the coronavirus was starting to spread in Maine.

To pay for this spending, as well as the range of routine expenses for operating county government, county officials will use $1.6 million in county-generated revenue — fees collected by the registrars of Deeds and Probate, among others — as well as money transferred from undesignated surplus funds and the designated fund for retirement.

The Kennebec County Budget Committee, made of municipal officials from across the county, reviews the spending proposals every year.

On Monday, committee members reached a consensus on the budget plan for the year; the calculations of each municipality’s share of the assessment are expected later this week.

The budget discussion prompted debate about applying surplus funds to bring down what taxpayers are being asked to pay for county government. As with their municipal counterparts, county governments are expected to set aside a pot of money in a surplus fund to have available for emergencies.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Clyde Dyar, county budget committee chairman and a Mount Vernon selectman. “It’s my personal opinion that we need to do it. I think we’re doing the best we can, I can certainly feel we’re where we should be.”

Two public hearings are scheduled, generally one in Waterville and one in Augusta. At the close of the second public hearing, committee members vote on the budget.

On Tuesday, Devlin said the budget hearings are expected to be scheduled for the first part of June.

Because of restrictions on public gatherings in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the hearings may be held on Zoom, an online meeting platform.

Earlier this year, the Maine Legislature passed emergency legislation to allow public meetings to take place by electronic means.

The emergency legislation also allows cities and towns to delay budget votes in response to stay-at-home orders, but county governments were not included, so county budget meetings are continuing.

Devlin said if counties fail to send their tax assessments out by mid-July, they will have to pay for sending out revised property tax bills to all county residents.

In addition to law enforcement and the county jail, county assessments also pay for some or all of the operations of the registers of Deeds and Probate, the District Attorney’s Office and emergency management activities among other things.

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